The Importance of Being a Kid: Giving Children in Foster Care Back Their Childhoods
Foster kids are still kids. It seems like this should go without saying, but sadly, that is not always the case. Yes, foster kids have experienced trauma of some sort and may need some extra patience and grace, but at the end of the day, they are still kids. Like all kids, they need a loving family, friends, and supportive community. They, like all people want to be accepted and valued for who they are and not stereotyped. They want to fit in and not be treated differently than other kids.
One of the things children in foster care really need is normalcy. They’ve been taken away from everything familiar and are trying to adapt to new circumstances while struggling through all the typical challenges of childhood and adolescence.
Sadly, some children miss out on chances to just play and be a kid because many of the circumstances that lead to children entering foster care force them to grow up quickly and take on adult-type roles in order to survive.
For example, when children are being neglected due to parents who are frequently intoxicated or absent, the oldest child may feel the need to act as a parent for their younger siblings (or even sometimes act as a caregiver for their parent). A child who is only eight or nine years old may be cooking meals, getting the other children ready for school, helping them with homework, and tucking them into bed at night.
If a child is abused, the constant need to be vigilant to avoid the wrath of an abuser can cause a kid to operate on survival mode. The child can’t just relax and play or do other kid things without staying on alert and constantly worrying about what may happen.
When a child is in a safe situation, such as a foster home, they can begin to let go of these survival methods, but it takes time. It is important that kids in these situations be encouraged and given the freedom to play and act like kids. They don’t need the additional challenges of being stereotyped as a foster kid.
As a foster parent, I know how important it is to have a caring community in order to create the environment kids need to heal. Sadly, some people do think about children differently when they find out they are in foster care. I have only encountered blatant discrimination against one of my foster children once, but it doesn’t have to be blatant to have a negative effect on a child.
Some people are well-intentioned and just pity kids, but even this is not OK because it means they are treated differently and not able to be just a kid. As adults, we think we can control what we communicate to children, but kids are often more perceptive than we realize and they can usually tell the difference between being treated normally and being pitied.
Giving kids the opportunity to fully experience childhood with as much normalcy as possible is an important role for foster families. Children may struggle with some difficult behaviors because of their traumatic experiences, but getting to know them and love them is still the best part of foster care. My most treasured moments are those times when I’m just being a parent and my kid is just being a kid.